Music has a way of permeating through empty corners and filling up environments with substance. It can help you relax, make you well up in tears, or feel alive. But can it make you more productive?

We use music to set the tone of our environment and our mood, whether we're unwinding after work or throwing a party. But in an age when many of us spend our time staring at a computer screen, music has also become a mode of escape from outside distractions or dull tasks. So how useful is music when it comes to focusing on your work?

Let's take a look.

What research says about music and productivity.

Teresa Lesiuk, an assistant professor in the music therapy program at the University of Miami, does research on the effect of music listening on work performance. According to Dr. Lesiuk's research, those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and had better ideas overall than those who didn't.

But there are some types of music that worsen productivity. Several studies have shown that popular music interferes with reading comprehension and information processing.

Based on these studies then, music can have a positive effect in your work, but its effect on productivity depends on the situation and type of music.

So, what type of music works?

When I work, I find it very hard to concentrate if people are talking. Similarly, listening to music with lyrics is almost as distracting.

It turns out I'm not alone. Music can be considered a form of multitasking, in which the listener is switching back and forth between a task and the music, as opposed to the music simply playing a background role.

Once again, this depends on the type of music and the listener's habits. Dr. Haake does research on music listening at work, and she identified five factors that could determine whether music is distracting or helpful:

  1. Musical structure. Songs with a more complex musical structure, such as Frank Zappa's "Muffin Man" can be more distracting to listeners when compared to songs with a simple three-chord structure, such as John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane".
  2. Lyrics. Lyrics can distract, as they cause you to focus on the message of the song and interrupt your train of thought.
  3. Listening habits. If someone is used to listening to music while working, it's often more beneficial than distracting. The reverse is true as well.
  4. Difficulty of tasks. If a task requires more thought and focus, music can make it more difficult to work efficiently.
  5. Control. When music is imposed upon someone, it's usually more distracting than if the person has a choice in the matter.

While it's not a one-size-fits-all scenario, there are certain types of music that are better to listen to as you type away on your computer. So if you're listening to music while working, see if it suits the five criteria above and adjust until you find what works best.

Published on: Sep 19, 2017
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